Unveiling the Controversy That Surrounds Acceptation of Equal Rights Amendment Essay

No amendment has created more controversy or debate than the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Drafted by Alice Paul, a suffragist and feminist, in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) had been reintroduced to every Congressional session until its passage in1972. Through the hard work ERA advocates for over 50 years, the amendment finally passed the House and Senate and was sent to the states on March 22, 1972 for ratification. By 1977, 35 states had approved the amendment and Congress voted to extend the original March 1979 deadline to June 30, 1982 in hopes of getting the necessary 38 states to ratify the amendment.

[3] However, by the end of the deadline, the amendment failed to the ¾ of states necessary to pass the amendment and ultimately failed. While culminating during the Rise of the New Right in the 1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment’s failure was rooted in a deeper political ideology that women across the country held dearly. This new conservative movement proved to be a catalyst for a return to traditional norms that ultimately hindered the acceptance of the radical implications of the ERA.

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The failure of the Equal Rights Amendment was due to the effectiveness of the Anti-Era Campaign and the strict deadline implemented by Congress during the Rise of the New Right.

Consisting of three short sections, Section 1 of the Equal Rights Amendment states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”. These 24 simple words provided an era of debate but eventually failed to achieve its goal of gender equality. With the recent passage of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote, Alice Paul hoped to continue her work for gender equality. During her remarks at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1923, she declared, “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written within the framework of our government.” The sentiments carried through these remarks resonated with feminists during the 1960s and 1970s with iconic figures such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. More importantly, her declaration cemented the core values that many feminists uphold. These values are emulated by Martha Griffiths (D-MI), the first woman to serve on the House Committee on the Ways and Means Committee. Griffiths played a pivotal role in the passage of the ERA within the house and her work on the committee led to the approval of the amendment by the House on October 12, 1971. The works of Griffiths also represented a growing generation of women that advocated for equal rights. In Liz Carpenter’s Letter to her Congressman in 1971, she indicated that “It is high time men recognized that some ‘protective’ laws treat women like idiots, and others keep women out of jobs where they’d lift no more than a three-year-old child does.” Carpenter voiced the concern of millions of working women who wanted to develop their careers.

On the other hand, the resistance to the amendment stalled the process until the deadline was passed. Phyllis Schlafly created the Stop-ERA Campaign to prevent the passage of the amendment. She glorified traditional gender norms and believed that the changes implemented by the Era would create undesirable circumstances for American women across the nation. Advocates for her movement hung “Don’t draft me” signs on baby girls in front of state legislatures to prevent the passage of the ERA. However, this traditional standpoint had been preserved throughout the battle for ratification. Esther Peterson of the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau in the 1920s worried that an ERA would destroy labor laws like minimum wage and maximum hours for female workers. Additionally, women wrote letters to their Congressmen in opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. In her letter to Representative Don Edwards in 1971, Mrs. Thomas Zeko stated that, “From the high rate of crime, venereal disease, drug abuse and suicide among the young, and lack of respect for God and country, it would seem women are failing terribly in their most important job.” Women such as Schlafly and Zeko hoped to preserve the traditional gender roles and prevent feminists from seeking the social equality they hoped to achieve.

Because of the ambiguity of the deadline of the Equal Rights Amendment, there have been a lot of recent discussion about the time limit of the amendment. Supporters of the ERA believe the amendment should follow the ratification of the 203-year-old Madison Amendment which was originally proposed without a time limit in 1789. Ironically, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment on March 22, 2017, 35 years after the deadline for ratification.The Equal Rights Amendment continues to be a front-page issue because of its ramifications on our Constitution and the perception of women in society.

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